Photo in Joe’s Crab Shack decor was a hanging, not a lynching

There’s no question that making a joke out of a hanging, as Joe’s Crab Shack did with a picture of a black man being hanged, is offensive and stupid.

“It’s a very disturbing and ugly part of American history,” Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, told MPR’s Mukhtar Ibrahim in his excellent story today.

“They are trying to make a joke out of our black bodies being lynched and I had a real problem with that,” said Chauntyll Allen, a community activist, who first raised the objection to the picture.

Allen is right, of course. Hangings make for poor jokes.

What’s this picture about? It’s a poor representation of the lynching of African Americans because it wasn’t a lynching. It was an execution. That obviously doesn’t excuse the ugliness of the use of the photo, but a lynching — this one, for example — is a murder without a trial. The history depicted in the photograph isn’t a lynching, at least some historians don’t think so.

Apparently, the title of the photograph — Last Hanging in Brown County — is also wrong.

The hanging took place in Limestone County,Texas according to historian Clay Riley.

On May 3, 1894, a pioneer resident of Groesbeck, James Garrett McKinnon, was robbed and bludgeoned to death with a stone. A man was arrested for the death, tried and convicted. The sentence was hanging. Prior to 1903, death penalties were performed in the county seats of the respective counties. After that date, the State of Texas carried out all executions at the Huntsville Penitentiary.

On April 12, 1895, at Groesbeck, Texas, Limestone County, Richard Burleson was hanged for the crime for which he had been convicted.

Did Burleson receive a fair trial or was he hanged because he was black? It’s hard to say; there isn’t a record of the events of the trial. [See comments section for background on the trial]

But of the 10 executions in Texas between 1895 and 1910, seven of the convicted were black.

A relative of McKinnon’s researched the case 10 years ago and said Burleson was a freed slave who robbed his grandfather of a $20 gold piece. The two had been seen earlier in the day.

“James offered Burleson a ride in his wagon, Burleson accepted, then clubbed James over the head with a rock,” Tom McKinnon of Arizona wrote of his research. The victim was his great grandfather, he said.